Petra Sander Ybarra, PhD

Hometown – Amherst, MA
Undergrad – Princeton University, AB, Molecular Biology
Graduate School – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008, MSPH, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2011, PhD
Current – Family Caregiver

Petra Sander found her passion in the fifth grade when she chose meningitis as her research topic for a science report. By the time she turned in her report six weeks later, she could talk excitedly – and at length – about viral and bacterial symptoms and spinal tap procedures. She laughingly admits now that at the time she was convinced that she had experienced at least 11 of the 17 classic symptoms of meningitis!

Over the years, Petra’s enthusiasm for infectious diseases has not waned. She scored a perfect “5” on the AP Biology Exam and worked for two years on cholera research in the Amherst College laboratory of Professor Paul Ewald. An outstanding participant at MIT’s MITE2S Program last summer, she received the biochemistry prize for the highest average as well as the writing award.

While her teachers at Amherst Regional High School would not be surprised to see Petra make her mark in scientific research, they are convinced that she will succeed at anything she puts her mind to. Wendy Kohler, Director of Secondary Curriculum at Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, writes of her, “Petra combines tremendous intellectual gifts with an iron will, a strong sense of responsibility, and a passion for ideas as well as action.”

The daughter of a Trinidadian mother and German father, Petra spent much of her childhood traveling the world with her parents. She acquired a global perspective which she brings to her academic pursuits, choosing, for example, to add the study of Latin, Greek, and Spanish to her German and English fluency. Petra enjoys playing the flute in a chamber music ensemble and has performed with the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Orchestra. Her community service activities include tutoring and organizing American Red Cross programs that teach elementary school students about emergency preparedness.

Petra will enroll at Princeton this fall as an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Achievement Scholar. To further her ambition of becoming an epidemiologist, she plans to major in biology.